Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Ramapo backs down on zoning 

Once again, Ramapo proves that, when it comes to land use, it is easier to seek forgiveness than ask permission, even if it takes almost two decades.
The town last month updated its zoning laws to allow homeowners in a Monsey housing development — long referred to as "the infamous Bates-Horton" homes — to finally get certificates of occupancy for their dwellings, built in the early 1990s. The town will basically forgive zoning and safety violations. In exchange, residents will agree to maintain their properties, or basically do what any good neighbor would.

That's certainly setting a low bar for a development that's had such a notorious history. But after some 18 years of court challenges, discrimination lawsuits and families remaining in homes that don't comply with local zoning or safety standards, what does anyone expect?

Trail of misdeeds

In the mid-1990s, 15 homes were illegally built as two- and three-family dwellings, even though the area was zoned for single-family homes. The town stepped in, the development halted, and vacant lots at the 17-acre site became magnets for illegal dumping. The conditions were so bad, the town changed its laws to allow its public works department to engineer a cleanup. Meanwhile, efforts to get the builder to comply with the original single-family zoning filtered through the courts. By 2000, the town won Supreme Court permission to evict the families from the illegally converted homes and restore the properties to single-family dwellings; it never happened.
Concurrently, the Orthodox and Hasidic residents of Bates-Horton sued for zone changes, saying the town was discriminating against them. They maintained that the community needed more housing, and within close proximity to their extended families, to freely practice their religion.


By the mid-2000s, the town had devised a plan to allow more housing for the burgeoning Orthodox community by allowing condominium-style apartments at the site, many of which are now under construction. It also came up with a pathway for homeowners to stay in the illegally built duplex and triplex homes and finally earn legal status for the properties. The residents would join a homeowners' association that would ensure the site was maintained — a way to combat the site from sliding back into an illegal dumping ground — and would manage the apartments that had been allowed on the site.


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